Mercedes-Benz’s Metris favors utility over frills

2016 Mercedes-Benz Metris

Base prices: $28,950-$32,500

Engine: Turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder

Horsepower: 208

Torque: 258 pound-feet

Wheelbase: 126 inches

Length: 202.4 inches

Height: 74.8 inches

Payload: 2,502 pounds

Cargo capacity: 186 cubic feet

Towing capacity: 4,960 pounds

EPA fuel economy (city/highway): 20/23 mpg

NHTSA safety rating: Not rated

The folks at Mercedes-Benz would like you to consider purchasing a 2016 Mercedes-Benz Metris, especially if you have a small business and you’re a florist, or caterer, or electrician, or plumber, or handyman, or a cable company, or … well, you get the idea. Because for less than $30,000, you can purchase a cargo van that wears the famed three-pointed star.

However, a second version of the Metris is also available, a passenger van, which would be ideally suited as a limousine, taxi or hotel shuttle. Of course, you might also think of it as a perfect family shuttle.

At 202.4 inches long, the Metris is a half-inch shorter than a Honda Odyssey. But bowing to its old country origins, the Metris is 3.7 inches narrower and 6.8 inches higher than the Odyssey.

So yes, the Metris is muscular, but that doesn’t mean it has a huge appetite for fuel, thanks to its turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder gas engine mated to a seven-speed automatic transmission. Nevertheless, the Metris uses 91 octane fuel, although you can use 87 octane with some sacrifice in fuel economy and performance. But if you go for the good stuff, the Environmental Protection Agency predicts fuel economy of 20 mpg city, 23 mpg highway. Thoughtfully, the fuel filler door is at the lower rear edge of the driver’s door. Opening the driver’s door unlocks the fuel door; it’s clever and convenient.

Rear-wheel drive is standard; all-wheel drive is not offered, although it could be fitted in the future should demand warrant it.

While Mercedes-Benz offers one driveline on the Metris, it does offer two models: Cargo and Passenger, and each has its own feel. While either model is remarkably poised while cornering, and remains civilized even when the road is not, soaking up the worst shocks from potholes and frost heaves, the Passenger van’s ride is noticeably better than that of the Cargo van. It’s much more civilized. The Cargo van’s ride reminds you that this is a work vehicle, with more noise, less poise, and a suspension set up engineered to handle heavy loads, not heavy friends, family or paying passengers.

The interiors differ as well. The cargo model has a sub-$30,000 base price, along with two front seats, and no side windows. If you need a work truck, it’s nearly perfect. The load floor is low, while also being wide enough to carry up to 2,502 pounds of pallets. Aftermarket up-fitters should have a field day installing shelves, storage boxes and tool racks.

In contrast, the passenger version gets glass in its sliding side doors, a rear liftgate and three rows of seats. But this is first and foremost a commercial van made to carry passengers, which explains why the second and third rows don’t adjust or fold flat, and why the rear windows are fixed in place. You won’t find option packages with fold-down video screens, or leather seats, or a sunroof. Instead, you’ll find that options are a bit more basic, and include a sliding left-side door, tinted rear windows, eight-passenger seating, rear air conditioning unit, and electric sliding doors.

As on any Mercedes-Benz, safety hasn’t been ignored; options include blind spot assist, collision prevention assist, and lane keeping assist as well as active parking assist, which parallel parks the Metris without driver input. It works as advertised, although for the uninitiated, it’s hard to resist grabbing the steering wheel as it twists and turns without your help.

Given its market, you’ll find the Metris’s interior is durable, rather than opulent. And despite the lack of indulgent luxuries, it is very well-designed, with comfortable that are accommodatingly roomy. Better yet, unlike many minivans, the rear seats sit high enough for adults to remain comfortable. And you’ll also find that not only is the cabin quiet, it offers excellent visibility in all directions.

Up front, the driver and passenger face a simple instrument panel, anchored by a large instrument cluster. To the right there’s an expansive, flat space that houses a small infotainment screen, intuitive ventilation controls, and a pair of just-for-the-U.S. cup-holders. The transmission’s shifter is positioned on the right side of the steering column.

If there’s one item that is truly opulent on the passenger van, it’s the steering wheels, which is so luxurious, you’ll want to stroke it rather than hold it. It’s a token gesture, meant to elevate the feel of the vehicle while maintaining the Metris’s primary mission as a durable, long-lasting commercial vehicle meant to shuttle cargo or passengers heading to a hotel or airport, not after-school soccer practice.

So while you might be tempted to call it a minivan, the folks at Mercedes-Benz would rather you not. And while minivan sounds better than rug rat wagon, or family bus, there is a better name to call it: your next vehicle.